Street Fruit | Danusha Goska

Street Fruit

by Danusha Goska

Instead of growing fatter, the mulberries on the Dodds Street tree are growing longer, like blistered black pinkies, dangling. The tree has an unblocked southern exposure. I stood in the street and went over it like a cedar waxwing. Waxwings are fruit-eating birds; sitting on a power line, they will pass a berry from mouth to mouth, so all can share. This is a community-building behavior. With avian attentiveness I carefully selected the longest, blackest fruit, which, just jostled, dropped into my hands, my mouth, onto my sneakers, and, splattering purple onto the white cotton, into my breast pocket.

A young woman in a plain beige skirt and white blouse worked in the yard; when she bent over I could see her underpants and down the front of her shirt, though I sought no such access. Her front door was open and Henry Purcell’s “Fairy Queen,” rang from the house. Maybe she’s a music student at Indiana University, Bloomington. At first she and I did not speak, or even acknowledge each other’s presence. I finally remarked, “You have the best mulberries in town.”

“Well, thank you,” she said. “Would you like a container?”

I didn’t know how to say no. I didn’t know how to communicate how I feel about eating fruit for free on the street, how it reminded me of being a kid and cruising the shimmering hot macadam streets of Wanaque, NJ, on my bicycle, dressed as I was now, in cut-off jeans and shirt tail hanging, shoeless, scouting out ripe choke cherries and gobbling them down by the handfuls, knowing full well that eyelash-sized worms wriggled their way through every one, and that I crushed them under my molars along with pulsing magma-red wild cherry flesh, not caring that I was eating bugs, feeling that this was the closest I’d come to being what I wanted to be: a peasant child who had never immigrated to America, a wild animal, invisible to humans and unable to speak their language, a hunter-gatherer eons before civilization had set in, a welfare brat crafty and slick enough to survive on what I could find each day, my skills rescuing my unschooled immigrant mother from knuckle-gnawing factory labor thus defying the last-name-ends-in-a-consonant, native-born, 1960s American welfare state for sustenance.

“No,” I said. “The mulberry skins are too fragile. They get mooshed if you try to collect them.”

“Well, come get them anytime,” she said. “I tried them a couple years ago, and I don’t like them.”

We went about our respective activities: garden work and gathering, until I took off after I ate so many mulberries I began to get queasy, that summer-queasy when winter has been long and pinched and summer fruit are free.


Danusha Goska is a writer and teacher living in NJ. She is the author of Save Send Delete.

True Tales From The Wild Heart Critterarium | Albert Lannon

True Tales From The Wild Heart Critterarium

by Albert Lannon

1. TOADS IN A HOLE – When the summer monsoon storms hit and Wild Heart gets drenched, an amazing thing happens.  Dozens of toads – Couch’s Spadefoot, Mexican Green, others, dig up and out of their self-imposed tombs and begin croaking madly, looking for love.  They join the big Sonoran Desert Toads who hide in holes year-round in a mating frenzy. 

One night two Spadefoots were calling each other, one from our little fish pond, the other from outside our fence.  By morning they had found each other, the male with his arms around the female, clusters of fertilized eggs floating in the puddle.  Monsoon rains are hit and miss, intense but in very small cells, so soon the puddles start drying up.  Night one, the eggs are laid; night two tadpoles hatch.  By night four or five, as the puddle shrinks, the tadpoles do a rapid metamorphosis into little toads, little fingernail size.  Using the digging pur on their hind legs, they dig down into the still-moist soil to wait for the next storm.  While doing all that they eat a lot of bugs, including mosquitoes, and anything that eats mosquitoes is our friend!  ‘

With persistent drought there have not been many toads in recent summers.  I miss them.  

2. NIGHT MUSIC – I sleep outside on a futon on our back patio more than half the year, with mosquito netting to keep the occasional bug out.  Just about every night with moonrise, or just before dawn, or at anytime they feel like it, it seems like hundreds of coyotes lift their voices, yipping and howling and singing in a Coyote Jamboree.  Local dogs, and sometimes the donkeys down the road, are inspired to join in the music-making.  Then they all quiet down and I hear the gentle hooting of great horned owls on their nightly hunt.  Sometimes a cicada chimes in, or an awakened rooster, and then it is silent, the stars bright with the Milky Way winding its path through them.  An occasional shooting star.  I sleep, and I dream.


Albert Vetere Lannon lives on a Sonoran Desert acre he and his mate, artist and poet Kaitlin Meadows, call Wild Heart Ranch. A recipient of prizes from the Arizona State Poetry Society and Society of Southwestern Authors, his poetry, essays, reviews and stories have appeared in numerous “little” magazines over the years. He has also published two non-fiction history books and, at age 78, is currently working on a novel.  He has written community news and local history for several publications, and remains active in opposing the building of an interstate highway through the Avra Valley west of Tucson, and aerial spraying of cancer-causing glyphosate that has sickened local residents with unreported effects on wildlife.

3 Pieces | Thomas Terceira

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Thomas Terceira has been a craftsman and a designer for more than thirty five years and has shown his jewellery and enamels nationally and internationally. In the past, he has acted as a designer, sample maker, and model maker for jewellery manufacturers and retailers. Thomas has been creating this particular collage, decoupage and mixed media art work for over ten years. His collage works have won numerous awards and have been frequently exhibited.

Of Moss and Men | Paul Hetzler

Of Moss and Men

by Paul Hetzler

“Of course it’s environmentalists that caused all this moss.”

It is one of my first phone inquiries as the new Horticulture and Natural Resources Educator for the county’s Cooperative Extension Service, a nationwide outreach network established in 1862 as part of the federal Land Grant College system. I am wet behind the ears, and nervous about following in the footsteps of the previous educator, who retired after 30 years on the job.

The caller has lichens—“moss,” as he calls it—growing on the dead branches of his spruce tree. He sounds like an older gentleman, but lucid, and quite serious. I pause. One part of my brain tries to formulate a respectful means to say it is unlikely in the extreme that environmentalists caused lichens to grow on his tree, but another says hang on, this could be a great story.

“Oh?” I say, hoping the bemusement I feel doesn’t inform my voice.

“Well yes,” the man emphasizes, as if this is common knowledge. “We never used to have beavers here.”

This non-sequitur confirms it is going to be a worthy tale. I hush the logical responses that spring to mind:  This is northern New York State, just across the St. Lawrence River from Canada, and the fur trade was a significant part of our history. Of course we had—still have—beavers. Never mind that—I want to know how beavers figure into the environmentalists-equal-moss equation.

“Oh.” I hope this vague affirmation is enough to encourage him. It seems to be.

“Then in the ‘70’s, environmentalists flew beavers over from Europe in special chartered jets.” An image pops into my head of beavers reclining in plush first-class airline seats. I cover the receiver in case I start laughing. I really don’t know what to say. With all the hijackings back then, perhaps this just didn’t make the news. He apparently suspects I’m not convinced of the veracity of 1970s trans-Atlantic beaver flights, because he reiterates the point.

“That’s right, special chartered jets.” he sounds indignant that I haven’t validated his point about those beaver-jets. “And since then we’ve had more beavers every year.

“Right,” I agree, which is a lie; their population is actually stable.

“And the beavers made all these ponds and swamps, and that makes the air humid, which is why we have all this moss growing now. We never used to have that.”

Ahh, yes. His logic is impeccable. Facts, not so much. But I understand how, in his world at least, environmentalists caused moss. I try to steer us back to business.

“Right. Well. Um, can I send you a fact sheet on lichens, sir?” Given his opinion of environmentalists, I don’t bother to mention climate change and our new weather patterns. A number of years recently have seen three weeks or more of consecutive rainfall. When plants don’t dry out for that long, it is paradise for fungal pathogens. This has led to an explosion of foliar diseases like Rhizosphaera needlecast which is probably what is killing his Colorado blue spruce.

“Yeah, you could do that,” he allows, sounding answering his question is beside the point.   He abruptly picks up a new thread. “You know, it’s getting so I can hardly afford to mow my lawn. D’you know why gas prices are so high?”

Oh, God. Let me guess. Beavers?


Paul Hetzler is an educator and homesteader who lives off-grid in northern NY State. His work has appeared in Highlights for Children, and The Lancet, and he writes a weekly natural-resources column for regional newspapers.

Dragon Tales | Casey Cromwell

Dragon Tales

by Casey Cromwell

I remember Hannah’s grin when I agreed, but how she convinced me to climb into the tuft of grass that separated the beach from the sewer pipes behind our North Carolina house is foggy. Knowing my little sister, only nine at the time, she probably struck when I had a full belly and empty brain after one of our family dinners.

“It’s a magical cave.” Hannah sighed, pushing away her empty plate. “Dragons live in it.”

“And ticks and spiders, I’m sure.” Mom gathered the plates and left the table. “I’m just glad you’re enjoying winter break.”

“I’m serious, Mom,” Hannah said. “It’s like a different world in there. A natural mansion. It has separate rooms, even.”

Mom’s voice wafted in from the kitchen, over the rushing water from the sink. “Just be careful.”

My head shot up at the combination of Hannah and danger. “How ‘bout I go with you next time?”

She smiled – huge. The biggest smile I’d seen since Dad left shortly before my eleventh birthday, not as our father but as Marine ordered to Iraq for “Project: Iraqi Freedom.”

“Really? You will?”

“Yep. I’ll even go in these –” I waved my fingers, “cavern things with you.”

Hannah jumped up from the table, pulling me with her. “Come on, then! We need to get sea glass to sacrifice first!”

And so we did.

“Find any, Casey? I got some!” Hannah’s voice soared over the gentle purring of waves. November river water rushed up to tease our toes before scrambling back to the depths.

Fisting the treasures in my hand, I savored the bite of glass into flesh. Hard. Solid. Everything our life was not.

“Come on. Cough ‘em up!”

Hannah held out her hand, her fuzzy red sweater brushing my shoulders, and our palms bloomed in unison. The butt of a brown bottle, a green sliver with half a logo (Coo?) on the side, and dozens of small glass pebbles, smoothed in the tug-of-war between water and sand, sparkled against the gray backdrop of the Neuse River.

The smoothed glass pieces cuddled against one another like chicks in our sweaty hands, except we couldn’t keep them. I almost asked, imagining an indigo shard sitting on my bedside table. But I didn’t. According to Hannah, it wasn’t mine to take.

Skipping away from me, Hannah’s feet filled the air with white powder. “The dragons will be so happy! Come on!”

You know they don’t exist. I bit my lip, teeth digging into flesh like the glass sleeping in my palm. Dragons, fairy tales, dreams coming true? They’re all pretend. Made-up. Phony.

“Voila!” My thoughts scrambled at my sister’s screech.

“You ready? Here it is!?”

Staring beyond her finger, I nearly laughed. A tumbleweed. Really, that’s all it was – a huge tumbleweed of long grass, overgrown foliage, and damp sticks.

“This is it?” I stepped closer, nose crinkling. “This is what you’ve been talking about?” Sure, up-close, the sticks gave it some sense of architecture, grass curving around the rounded entrance with leftover sand serving as a welcome mat. Except, it didn’t look welcoming. Dark. Messy. Two of the many reasons I’d kept my sandals in the sand since we moved here three months ago.

Peeking into the darkness, I pulled my jacket tighter. “You sure I’m the one who needs glasses?”

“Don’t be a chicken!” She chuckled. “You haven’t even stepped inside!”

The glass sacrifices in her pockets clanged like a battle cry as she ducked inside. I paused, staring at the spare twigs and grass leaves threatening to prick my side. But when Hannah’s red sweatshirt disappeared into a green sea, I followed her anyway. This tradition she loved was my one exception. The one time, I, the older sister, would hide behind her youth and naivete. Besides, I didn’t like –

“Spiders. Watch out for spider webs!”

I barely stifled my squeal. Grass surrounded us like a wet blanket, tickling toes and scraping cheeks while cracks of sunlight painted shadows across the walls.

“Hannah, are you sure there’s a way to even get in here?”

“Of course!” The sound of a stick – a walking stick picked up at the shore? – slicing through tangled vegetation echoed in the tunnel. “Now, we need to crawl a bit here…”

“You can’t be serious.” I flapped my hands at the floor as she stared back at me. “It’s wet.”

Her jean-covered butt, wiggling as she kneeled and started to crawl, screamed her response. Sighing, I followed her. The smell of grass clogged my nostrils until – suddenly – fresh air attacked my face. Blinking upwards, I stood, mouth open.

“I call it The Dome,” Hannah said. “You know, ‘cause of the ceiling?”

I couldn’t resist looking up. Just like she said – a perfectly rounded ceiling weaved entirely of leaves, sticks, and grass. Rather than perfect weaves, they looked glued together, years of humidity, rain, and wind acting as an iron.

She grinned. “Didn’t I tell ya’?”

“You did. And there’s more?”

“Dining room, living room, sitting room, bedrooms…fills a dragon’s every need. In fact, I once…”

Her voice trailed in my mind as I walked to the opposite end of the cavern, peeking past the exit and into a makeshift hallway. Brushing away spare leaves and twigs, I chuckled in disbelief as my eyes adjusted to the darkness. Green grass and bright red blooms filled my gaze, decorating the pathway that extended for a few feet before disappearing in a leftward curve. Peering through the cracks in the wall, I could barely make out other rooms further down the path. Damp oaks guarded their borders and the blues of the Neuse River flashed through the woven walls. A mansion. It really was a mansion.

“Come on, Casey! You’ll have time to look later.” Hannah’s hand pulled me back towards the dome’s entrance. “The other rooms are cool, but this one’s the best. It has the nest.”

And it did. A small nest, maybe a foot in diameter. Posies framed the edges.

A bird’s? My brain whirled. Maybe a snake’s? I locked the logic inside my lips, covering my doubt by asking, “What next?”

“We sacrifice. Thank the dragons for their cave and magic.” Hannah poured the glass shards into my hand, folding my fingers over the top. “You do it this time!”

“No, really, I couldn’t,” I stammered. “You–”

“No.” She said. “You.”

Silence filled the cave as our eyes locked. One second. Two. Three –

Biting my lip, I breathed deeply before starting. “So, dragons. Um. Thank you. For your cave. For the wishes you grant.” The glass dripped from my fingertips, shooting miniature rainbows of light across the walls before hitting straw. Quicker, faster, they fell, my voice speeding to match every clink as my eyes scanned the cave.

Leaves swayed in the wind; spots of sun tickled our skin.

“Thank you for your magic. Your beauty.”

My sister’s cheek swelled in a smile; for the first time in months, my shoulders divorced my ears.

“Thank you for the escape.”

Raising my head after the last piece of glass fell into bed, I finally understood. I felt Mother Nature’s arms wrapped around us, blocking any wind or rain. I saw the purity of life in a world free of humanity’s complications.

Finally, I turned to face Hannah.

Maybe a little magic isn’t so bad after all.


Casey Cromwell has published poetry, fiction and creative nonfiction in PLNU’s Literary Magazine, winning first place for creative nonfiction during her freshman and junior years. She also writes a successful blog and has written for Further Food, Beyond Celiac and San Diego Writers, Ink. She is currently a senior writing major at Point Loma Nazarene University.

 

 

 

Household Hobbies: How the Family Search for Shark Teeth Made Us Find Each Other Instead | Casey Cromwell

Household Hobbies: How the Family Search for Shark Teeth Made Us Find Each Other Instead

by Casey Cromwell

“Found one!” My fingers dive into the cold Neuse River, capturing the ebony tiger shark tooth hiding among the pebbles and shells. It’s a decent catch: the size of my pinky finger, edges smooth from dancing in the current.

I add it to our bag, hearing the teeth jingle as my dad, sister, and I walk. It’s November 2006, mid-morning. Though we’d trekked this beach dozens of times, our feet and eyes are no less eager to explore the miles of North Carolina sand. We don’t know what shark teeth we’d find: how many, how big, what kind or condition. We certainly don’t realize that our family hobby would double as family bonding.

Unlike other families who inherit hobbies we fell into collecting shark teeth. Literally. When the Marine Corps moved us to North Carolina in 2006, my family discovered that beach walks often entailed tripping over items hidden in the sand – including rocks, sea glass and, most intriguingly, shark teeth.

We enjoyed collecting shark teeth for their intrigue and historical ties. No day proved this clearer than when we found the Megalodon tooth. We found it on a rocky hill at the end of the beach, which we dubbed Wee-Wee Point for Hannah’s need to pee on our first visit. My dad, sister, and I found a black chunk at first mistaken for rock or litter, until Dad looked closer and said, “It’s a molar! See the ridges?”

Hannah and I scrambled over, staring at the object engulfing Dad’s palm. Now, this was a big find. And, as we learned later, it belonged to a 70-100 ton shark: the Megalodon, which dominated oceans 15 to 5 million years ago.

When asked about favourite shark teeth memories, Dad said he especially enjoyed this unified learning. We learned more than just shark facts and history, though. I discovered that my sister’s slow pace meant she spotted the smallest teeth and that Dad’s analytic mind could see possibilities, like the Megalodon tooth, I overlooked. And together, we learned to see the big picture of our roles in a unified family and in an ancient ecosystem.

My family especially needed this big picture when Dad was deployed to Iraq a few months later. We had the beach, but no Dad to search with us. So, when the military arranged a video chat, Hannah brought the beach to Dad. The Communications Room was plain and cold. Mom, Hannah, and I sat at a huge conference table; after a few false connections, a projector flashed Dad’s smile across the white brick wall.

We laughed. We cried. Then Hannah dropped her sand dollar fossil, roughly the size of a bowling ball, on the table with a loud thunk. We hadn’t found any more Megalodon teeth, but her fossil proved we hadn’t stopped searching. Instead of a fragmented military family, we were fellow fossil collectors. Dad emailed pictures of his “rock garden” in Iraqi sand; we replied with photos of the teeth found under rocks at home.

The morning I discovered the tiger shark tooth was an average walk, but an upcoming storm caused the lowest tide we’d ever seen. Trees usually swamped with water made perfect diving boards into the sand. Bumps and dunes, underwater caverns and seaweed clumps, and dozens of shark teeth sat exposed to the sun’s unfamiliar gaze. Back then, I was astounded to realize those treasures were hiding under the water the entire time. Now, I know I can say the same thing about the bonds in my own family.

Though Mom didn’t hunt for shark teeth as often, even she loved watching our jar at home slowly fill. Mom tells me she believes, “Searching together created a special place where we could go as a family to get away from everything bad that was happening.”

Shared hobbies illuminate life’s big picture, unify, and reveal hidden traits. They create a world where only one focus – a family’s shared passion – matters.

For my family, in looking for shark teeth, we found each other instead.


Casey Cromwell has published poetry, fiction and creative nonfiction in PLNU’s Literary Magazine, winning first place for creative nonfiction during her freshman and junior years. She also writes a successful blog and has written for Further Food, Beyond Celiac and San Diego Writers, Ink. She is currently a senior writing major at Point Loma Nazarene University.

Editor’s Note

Delicious autumn! My very soul is wedded to it, and if I were a bird I would fly about the earth seeking the successive autumns.

— George Eliot

Nature helps us breathe.

Not just literally — in the scientific sense that flora takes in carbon dioxide and releases oxygen, et cetera, et cetera — but in the emotional sense. Husband being a pain? Go for a run. Struggling to pay the bills? Find a park bench in front of a lake with a mother duck leading her ducklings into the murky water. Having an existential crisis? Take your old bike out of the shed, and ride down the tallest hill you can find at the fastest speed you can go without killing yourself. Watch the world pass you by, wind whipping across your face and making you squint against its force.

When I was younger, I went to visit the same park every Sunday lunch-time. My brother and I would swing on the swings; walk from island to island via rubber buoys. There was a garden next to the park containing an abundance of agapanthus and maybe some Birds of Paradise. And within that garden, I could just detect the pitter-pattering of little feet. My first guess? Maybe a snake. But when I got closer, the mysterious creature moved toward the outskirts of the garden and poked its head out of the foliage — or should I say, two heads? Two albino guinea pigs. Were they wild? I wasn’t sure. Maybe they had clawed their way out of a cage and gone to explore the neighbourhood like curious dogs. I wondered what their lives must have been like; how their journey had led up to that point when they peered out from underneath the willowy agapanthus leaves.

I think that’s ultimately what we wanted to explore in this issue –; what I wanted writers and artists to explore. The wonder that we all experience at the goings-on in the world; something that isn’t just present during childhood, but throughout adulthood as well. The way that nature is your silent yet comforting friend. And, while restricting a journal by theme and genre may have been too limiting or specific for a seedling journal, I know we found some gold.

As always, gratitude is in order. Thank you to the contributors– your support is welcomed– and of course to our readers. Without you in mind, I don’t know how I would continue! I also want to dedicate a special thanks to Rebecca, Shona, Katie, and Ben for doing what they do (mostly) promptly and without complaining too much. Guys — I value your opinions! And I can’t wait to launch into the future of our new mini-publication, Sea Salt. And I can’t wait to do our third main issue. And I love coming home in the afternoon to what has basically become my own little writer’s club making a big difference in the world.

Anyway, enough soppy stuff. Take a look at our encounters with nature. Become enthralled.

With love,

Tiegan Dakin

Chief Editor